The Douglas DC-6 Association
of South Africa
Individual Aircraft History
Photograph: Jose Vilhena
Photograph: John Miller The Article Library firstname.lastname@example.org
The Forgotten story
of Angie Baby
by Brendan Odell
Note this article was written in
Note this article was written in 2001
For many years lavishly embroidered tales of rare and valuable aircraft lying in long grass at obscure airfields have haunted the dreams of aviation enthusiasts. Such rose-tinted notions pale into insignificance though, at the thought of some of these machines actually skulking in our very own backyard. Here? Never! Angola, or the Congo maybe, can only offer such riches. Very few of us in any case can offer memories, perhaps of the thrill of once, long ago, sitting in the cockpit of some long forgotten fifties airliner, flicking stiff toggle switches amid the smell of (albeit) ageing fuel and rotting leather. Simply the thought of such a thing coming to life bears no explanation. The thought of a fifties airline pilot, perhaps an ex- second world war ace, even, fighting this machine through thunder storms or flying to places long deserted by maps, Leopoldville, Lourenco Marques, Elizabethville – any place the mind conjures up! The brazen Captain flying this huge, heavy (but always graceful) machine, as if he were steering with his fingertips, while passengers sipped at their champagne with alacrity. Oh! To sit still for a minute and take it all in! The imagination forms such grandeur when it’s all come and gone doesn’t it?
In fact, until not so terribly long ago, adventure with both suavity and style that would make even the proverbial Major Biggles blush, flexed its smoky radial muscles in our very backyard. One such machine, often overlooked, and simply written off in the minds of most as a heap scrap, waiting to be melted into a multitude of aluminium frying pans, no doubt, deserves explanation. History, it seems, hides around every corner and as in the case of Angie Baby it can spring a surprise or two on the unwary. So if, with a gasp, you realise that I’m about to compare a corroding, oil dripping aeroplane with the likes of an ageing yet sultry Marlene Dietrich-esque star– read on!
Angie Baby isn’t what she seems. Although she is pretty rough for a 44-year-old, blistering skin, cripple (oleo) leg and pale complexion, she stands defiant and carries her scars with uncanny grace. A little like a rose on the wilt. She stands today, pushed to one side of a weed choked airfield, itself fighting for its existence, leaning to one side, facing constant threats of being hacked up, by uncaring idiots, who don’t know her important history and if they did, they probably wouldn’t care anyway. Having eluded death many times, both by accidents and more recently the scrap man’s axe, it seems life itself is more her forte and hence her story.
The birth of a beauty
Long before screaming, yowling paraffin stoves took their hold for good on the sky, when piston engined juggernauts cruised the blue stuff, 1 August 1957 to be exact, Douglas DC-6B “Cloudmaster” serial 45329 rolled out of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s factory at Santa Monica, California.
One can almost imagine as her crew gazed at their new machine sporting the orange and white Canadian Pacific livery, her new metal no doubt gleaming in the warm Californian sunshine. What a sight she must have been! Dripping with chromed jewellery, massive spinners would have enthralled the club-seated front passengers watching the polished propellers ticking over. At idle her engines would have burbled with an especially pleasing note (“like ten thousand Harley Davidson’s”) - blowing raspberries to the new-fangled jets.
Her interior trimmed in Saxe blue fabric and carpets, beige leather and polished wood veneers invited cheery fifties passengers in with a most magnificent smell. The Airhostess would want for nothing either. At the rear door a fully equipped galley, a feast of baby blue Bakelite and chromed toggle switches arranged on a turned aluminium surface awaited every touch of her white-gloved hand. Not to mention the especially generous vanity mirrors in which she would preen her tightly coiffed hair to perfection. Her cockpit crew would marvel at the cockpit, also detailed to perfection. On each control column a marque de fabrique fifties style Douglas (“First around the world”) badge was affixed, in addition to a chromed ashtray with an exquisite roller type cover on each seat. Ample lighting and comfortable seats trimmed either in velour or leather invited. On that day her Captain would have been presented, by Douglas factory staff with a large model of her (struck in the flying pose) and a photograph to mark the occasion taken beside her. Fittingly the Canadian Pacific DC-6B’s were all named as “Empress of …” And so on the 15th of August 1957, with her name “Empress of Suva” resplendent on her roof side, just behind the cockpit, her new crew would take CF-CZV on to the runway and lift her wheels from her birthplace to extend them again many times as her destiny unfolded.
Unforgettable old girl
After plying the routes of Canadian Pacific for only four years she was sold to Transair Sweden AB on the 10th of November 1961 and registered SE-BDG, and given a new name - “Stockholm”. Here she would work for the almost another four years, but not to be forgotten.
On the 12th of January 2002 the author received a visit from a Swedish gentleman, whom he had the pleasure of showing around Angie Baby. The gentleman (now owning his own DC-3 “Daisy”) had last seen the aeroplane 41 years ago, in Sweden, while working on her for Transair Sweden AB. Greeting her, as an old friend, he first gave a respectful nod and then walked up to her nose and ran his fingers, with great care, along the lower seam of rivets, feeling every imperfection. After that he didn’t utter another word, except for a “thank-you” and a “goodbye” to me, when he was done. She gets to you that way, you might say.
On the 25th of June 1965 Angie Baby transferred owners for the third time, this time becoming LN-SUT with the airline Braathens SAFE (Braathens pronounced like “broadens” with a “t” instead of a “d”). Here she became one of seven DC-6Bs flying among others, a route between Stockholm and Gatwick, usually bringing students to Britain for their summer holidays (this route with increasing frequency in the late 60s until 1971). In Europe, though, big piston airliners were not alone anymore, even at Gatwick (Then still trying to shake its bee-hive image). Period photographs of Angie Baby (as LN-SUT) show her jostling at Gatwick with the likes of Vickers Vanguards, Vickers Viscounts, BAC One-Elevens, Comet 4s and even Boeing 707s. Not that she was second-rate, of course, wearing her Braathens SAFE paint scheme featuring a stylised “DC-6B” badge on the tail, complete with Norwegian flag, she was as sleek-looking as any competition, even as her rounded lines aged.
Adventure knocks on the door
At this time of course (1967-70) the Biafran Airlift was in full swing and it would appear Angie was included, as Braathens took a very active part in this operation, using its DC-6Bs (especially LN-SUD) under the guise of “Jesus Christ Airlines” flying out of “Annabelle” (the codename for Uli airstrip on Sao Tome). The many daring and dangerous flights carrying anything from stockfish to salt (and/or passengers) don’t bear too much elaboration here. But nevertheless Braathens was responsible for pulling many, many people fearful of being branded “mercenaries” out of Annabelle from Christmas 1969 until about April 1970. The runway was no more than a disused stretch of bush road, where landings were carried out in the dead of night, under the very real threat of being bombed. Although no photograph exists of Angie actually being there, it is known that Braathens operated there until April 1970, and Angie’s sister ship LN-SUD had been placed in storage and chopped up by October 1969 at Stavanger in Norway, so Angie probably took part in some of the last operations.
Peaceful for a while, she travels the world
In February 1971 she joined Greenlandair as OY-DRC with the name “Amalik”. Here she enjoyed her longest ownership period, remaining with Greenland Air until March 1979. With Greenlandair both she and her sister ship in that airline, OY-DRM, c/n. 42326, wore a paint scheme featuring a (very large) stylised bird (or a bow tie!) on their tails. In March 1979 she was purchased by the well-known British piston propliner operator, Air Atlantique and registered as G-SIXB (pretty apt!). Here she was photographed staging through Coventry, on the 10th of March 1979 still carrying her Greenland Air paint scheme but featuring the registration G-SIXB. With Air Atlantique she was used in Jersey, mostly for crew training duties. Her sister ship (now G-SIXA) a DC-6A, joined her in May of that year. Air Atlantique still operates DC-6B, G-SIXC (c/n 45550) (which was recently treated to a repaint in the latest Air Atlantique scheme).
Air Atlantique did not keep Angie Baby very long however, and in December 1979 she found her way to Africa. Here she was sold to Air Swaziland as 3D-ASA, later being reregistered as 3D-ASB though. Here she was painted in an interesting scheme, seen in 1980 with an all grey nose and cockpit area giving way to the standard white topped fuselage. On her tail a giant assegaai and shield made their presence known. On her fuselage upper surface she bore the “Air Swaziland” legend with an assegaai on either side of the lettering, just for good measure.
In February of 1987, she abdicated as a Swazi Princess. Registered as N90300 with Flying Enterprise Inc, it is here that she exclusively took over her final role. It is understood that it was at this point that she began to fly only cargo. Once proud and regal, she was now humbled to earn her keep by having nothing more glamorous than varied types of freight to transport.
The ageing lady shows her teeth
She didn’t stay too long with her American registration, and soon found her way to the war-torn Mozambique where she became C9-ASR with Interocean Airways. Here, her cargo was limited to mostly food and medical supplies, flying into bush strips. Bearing, a new paint scheme, featuring the Interocean motif on her tail, she began to experience some of the most exciting adventures in her flying career.
Angie Baby’s stories are unfortunately mostly lost to the ravages of time, but luckily some have survived, mostly from her later (more dangerous) days and definitely bear telling here. Some stories she tells herself though, one such is the inscription on her roof (actually a few sheets of aluminium just pop-riveted together, to hold the lights (still bearing paint betraying their original use) her original interior mostly being ripped out to carry more freight. It reads, however, “Back to Insanity – Capt - Marnix van Eeken F/O - G. Patterson F/E Mark Blandford, Inshalha 1987”. This flight having occurred in the earlier days of Interocean Airways operations in Mocambique. Another story involves a sheet metal worker, who used to work on her, taking pity on her. This being 1987, Angie, thirty years young, began to blister a little around her windows. Normally a freighter in Angie’s position would usually have the offending window removed and replaced by an unsightly sheet metal patch, but this was not to be. This particular repair was carried out with exquisite workmanship (thereby saving the window), to the great surprise of the mechanics, who promptly declared, in a tragic joke, that the elaborate repair was a great waste of time, and plenty else besides. The joke was on them though, and it stuck. When the author was visited by an ex-Interocean engineer some months ago, his first question (in identifying the aeroplane) was “Let me see the front cabin window!”.
Interocean had purchased two DC-6Bs two supplement their two DC-4s (One of which still survives as ZS-PAJ). One “six” was christened Baby Shoes (c/n 43740). Although Baby Shoes was chopped up at Lanseria in 1990 her cockpit survives at Johannesburg International Airport with the South African Airways Apprentice Training School. The other aeroplane was, of course, christened Angie Baby, and the story is quite charming. During Interocean’s tenure in Mozambique, some of the crews had befriended the ATC at Beira. This girl, Angie, in the words of an old Interocean man was “a great Swiss girl who could swear you dead if she had the chance” (!). Having taken a liking to the crews of Interocean she would tell them that when she died she would like to be buried under the runway at Beira, so that the crews would land and take off on top of her each day. In her honour Angie Baby received her name.
One of Angie Baby’s more interesting incidents (widely told, albeit unconfirmed in black and white) involves one of the most revered propliner pilots ever – the late Captain Jack White. A veteran of not only the Second World War, but also (it’s rumoured) the Biafran Airlift, sanction busting in Rhodesia with DC-7Cs (Seven Seas) and many other interesting adventures. In any event, while flying Angie Baby for Interocean Airways and performing a landing at yet another bush runway, loaded to the hilt with cargo in the back, the well known “Aviation Gremlin” reared his head. On application of reverse pitch, the good Captain found himself with only one engine actually going into reverse pitch, the other three just happily thrumbling away at idle.
One can just imagine this very large, very heavy aeroplane hurtling down the runway at the best part of probably almost 100 knots- with asymmetric reverse not really helping. So Jack did what he could- he braked. Eventually, miraculously without fire, from sheer heat the brakes melted, the wheels were locked – seized solid, but still she hurtled forward, striking a tree stump with her number two engine’s propeller, losing a sizeable chunk from one blade. Just then however, she made for the bushes and came to a rest in a cloud of dust. As you can make out though she lived to fight another day!
And so she did. Interocean had found the DC-6Bs to be temperamental on shorter legs (which was after all not what they were designed for) and so retired them in the face of seemingly endless blown cylinders. So for the interim she joined African Air carriers, but in June 1990 she was registered by Avia Air (Pty) Ltd. Here she became one of only two DC-6Bs ever registered in South Africa, becoming ZS-MUL. A short tenure as ZS-MUL was all she got and soon she was off to “Republique Democratique du Congo”, where, as everybody knows, piston propliners go and very seldom return.
Off, on the 26th of July 1994 to the Heart of Darkness she went, now wearing the Congolese registration 9Q-CJE. Here, she joined a splendid collection of thirties, forties, fifties and sixties airliners. At that time Africa was unique in that one could spot (at one airfield) everything from pre-war “Daks” to the super-rare “whispering giant” Bristol Brittania or perhaps a smoky Caravelle taxiing past a gaggle of Hawker Siddeley 748s. Not entirely unseen, and definitely not unheard (!), one might even spot a “Rolls-Royce of the air” Vickers Viscount. All of these aircraft were, of course, catering for the needs of Africa’s troubled people. Stories of propliners in Angola abound, but a few stand out. Angie’s story is unconfirmed, but makes an interesting addition in any case. Angie, never the shrinking violet, had a pretty good one of her own.
Late one pitch dark Angolan night, Angie, storming along, hardly above the trees, with exhausts glowing a cherry red, trying to avoid unfriendly fire, despite her steady, comforting roar that could so easily have betrayed her, came in to land. Loaded heavily with oil drums all tied together with a cargo strap, or two, she commenced her landing descent.
Her crew, however, were in for a surprise. As they looked around their shoulders, to investigate the commotion in the cabin, it was too late. As the nose down pitch had begun, the drums broke free and with great momentum made for the cockpit in avalanche style. Angie’s forward bulkhead had been removed, so there was no stopping them either. The weight shift to the nose, plus the effect of being panelled with quite a large number of drums, couldn’t have been very pleasant for the crew, but a landing was pulled off (any landing you walked away from, was a good one, as they say). Plenty of red faces no doubt.
Forgotten and unloved – but not for long!
However, despite her savior vivre, her splendid lifestyle told on her, and within a few short years she found herself forlorn at Kinshasa awaiting her fate, as were many, many of her friends - DC-3s, DC-4s and some DC-6s. So many had left the same factory as she had, maybe thirty, forty, fifty or more years before on the other side of the world, in very different circumstances. Here they met, like old age home inmates, each one having collected an illustrious history, to await the inevitable persona of death by axe and angle grinder.
Angie was a lucky one though; she was ferried back to Rand Airport where she really would meet her fate. Although ferried back, it was soon apparent that she was destined to be chopped up for what little scrap metal they could salvage from her pitiful remains. Her sin? She had been built with a passenger door, which was no good for freight. Her door, once her proud lifeblood, where delighted ladies wearing gloves and sporting pillbox hats, accompanied by gentleman in suits and shining ghillie brogue shoes, delicately stepped aboard into her once gracious interior, was now to be her death blow.
Hail to the SAA Museum Society! Having heard of her plight they soon spoke to the owner Mr Kiki Lemaire, who, forever to his credit, donated the aeroplane to the Museum Society. Late in August 1998 the first engine runs took place at Rand on a new set of batteries. After several hours and spark plugs, all four engines were happily burbling away, large plumes of characteristic blue smoke trailing behind them. The SAA Museum Society members had almost succeeded. Soon they had convinced Captain Flippie Vermeulen to take her (registered for the ferry as ZS-XXX) to her new home, Johannesburg International, well for a while anyway. On the day of the flight, 8 November 1998, onlookers were treated to a low, high-speed flypast, a fitting end to her working career indeed.
The old girl defiantly staggers to her resting place
A saying well-known among piston propliner operators rings something to the tune of “In God and Pratt & Whitney we trust, everybody else we double check!” This was very much the case with Angie Baby’s last flight – although admittedly I think God had beaten Pratt & Whitney on this one, hands down in fact! It was an eventful day, 8 April 1999, that her grey silhouette touched down at Air Force Base Swartkop. From Jo’burg to Swartkop isn’t very far, but for Angie’s crew, it sure as hell was. Over Modderfontein the radios absolved themselves from all duty, three out of the four engines wouldn’t run unless the booster pumps were set to “high”. On landing the brake pads fell out of one wheel and hooked the wheel, so bursting a main wheel. As Capt Vermuelen and Capt Lorrie Raath taxied her up, they parked her and ran her engines up one last time, all four together. The sound of her, there in front of me, shuddering and shaking against her brakes, giving a final roar of defiance, will live with me forever.
Soon a set of steps was pushed closer and a red carpet laid all the way down. As the door opened, Capt Vermuelen appeared. He stood in the doorway, briefly surveying the small group assembled below, before announcing “Nooit weer nie! Nooit weer sal ek hierdie vliegtuig vlieg nie!” (“Never, ever again will I fly this aeroplane!”)
Five’ll get you ten, Angie hasn’t lost her dancing shoes yet!
Angie Baby – Technical information
An overview - a comparison with the family tree
The Douglas “Family” of the forties and fifties spawned a range of airliners of which the DC-6B is roughly in the middle. Beginning with the Douglas C-54 and the DC-4 1009 (both known as the “Skymaster”) the family resemblance passed onto the DC-6, DC-6A, DC-6B “Cloudmaster” and subsequently the DC-7 A, B and (arguably) the apex of piston propliners the last of the line DC-7C “Seven Seas”. To the inexperienced spotter the DC-4 and DC-6 series look almost identical, which is true, although under the skin a host of differences show themselves.
The DC-6B was without a doubt extremely elegant and to the crew an exceptionally pleasant aeroplane to fly and work on. The reasons for this are many, but basically come down to wartime and immediate post-war lessons learnt on the DC-4 series. A very basic example would be the design of the baggage bays. On the DC-4 baggage space was, to say the least, limited and loading always limited by the very tail biased centre of gravity. Even the design of the baggage bay doors on the DC-4 beg explanation. If, in the event of a full baggage bay, some of the suitcases happened to topple onto the inward-opening door (regular occurrence) and so get stuck between the aforesaid door and the cabin floor above it, it could sometimes be extremely difficult to open the door. A Laurel & Hardy type comedy might play out, as mechanics, flight engineers and baggage handlers tried their various methods at rescuing the (by now impatient) passengers stricken suitcases. On the DC-6 series a larger down-folding door with in-built step (not requiring a special key and ladder like the “four”) was fitted. Also these bays were cavernous and there were now three instead of only two.
Other examples of advance were, most importantly, pressurisation (to compete with the Lockheed Constellation) but also reverse pitch and a single disc, triple pot brake system by Goodyear on each wheel (Much better (easier to work on) than the DC-4s hopeless multiple disc system). This also introduced attractive new wheels, doing away with the DC-4’s ugly “hubcapped” wheels. Extra fuselage length ahead of the wings, with the assistance of the heavy R2800s in very long nacelles, helped the centre of gravity. Control surfaces were now metal and featured assistance tabs (the DC-4 was very heavy to fly) Also a larger squared off rudder and stabiliser were fitted. In addition to this an “ignition analyser” was installed allowing the mechanic on board (Yup! Better believe it ladies and gents, a “mechanic call” button was even part of the flight engineers panel!) to check the operation of each and every spark plug. However, admittedly, the operation of this instrument was rather complicated and featured quite a lot of literature to understand it. All in all though, a little less painful than the old method employed on other radials (the unlucky mechanic feeling each and every plug on a hot engine with his thumb and forefinger, to find the dead one causing the mag drop) The DC-4 was also notorious for the constant fuel leaks (which like the oil leaks on radials, had to be lived with) as a result of the use of square cornered fuel tank panels on the integral “wet wing” system. The major disadvantage being extreme aircraft downtime while hordes of mechanics armed with methyl ethyl ketone and scrapers tried to clean the impossible mess and fit the panels with seemingly endless screws with a new gasket before the sealant (quaintly known as “duck s**t”) dried. The DC-6 featured oval tank panels with not nearly as many screws, which helped.
The “Six”, however, had her vices. The R2800 engines, without a doubt Pratt & Whitney’s finest radial, were very large engines and as all large radials were, extremely intolerant of short legs, the effects of super-cooling would crack cylinders in no time at all. Also, they were pressurised aeroplanes causing them to be known as real “rotboxes”. Corrosion would start around the windows and follow the upper fuselage roof rivet lines, also corroding plenty along the side of the empennage. The battery bay/rear nosewheel area could also rot profusely, as could the area around the rear baggage bay door. Some aeroplanes even rotted in the cockpit! Therefore a rot-free DC-6 is a prized possession. The DC-4 was not pressurised and therefore did not contain as many double skinned sections, prone to condensation. However earlier C-54s tended to have rotten outer wings as a result of early fuel tank sealants used on the “wet wing” integral fuel tank system.
Maker: Douglas Aircraft Co. Inc.,Santa Monica, California (USA)
Model: Douglas DC-6B “Cloudmaster”
Date of Manufacture: August 1 1957
Delivered: August 15 1957
Serial Number: 45329
Structure: low wing monoplane with retractable nose and main landing gear
Fuselage: light metal semi monocoque
Wings: light metal monocoque
Engines: 4 x Pratt & Whitney R2800-CB16 or CB17 “Double Wasp” developing 2500 bhp with water methanol injection. Cowlings equipped with high speed inserts (specified on this particular late-model aircraft) with spinners.
Propellers: Hamilton Standard hydromatic, fully feathering, three bladed with de-icing boots, electrically controlled from cockpit. Featuring reverse pitch and auto synchronisation and auto feathering.
Wingspan: 35.81 m
Length: 32.18 m
Wing Area: 135.4m2
Empty Weight: 22 000 kg
Max Take Off Weight: 44 129 kg
Wing Loading: 280.2kg/m2
Power Loading: 4.5kg/hp
Max Speed: 570 km/h
Cruising Speed: 467km/h
Landing Speed: 180 km/h
Rate of Climb: 326m/min
Range: 6100 km
Interocean DC-3s, 4s and 6s remaining (at the time of writing 2001)
DC-3 C9-ATH – Abandoned, Angola (?)
DC-3 ZS-PAA – Under restoration Phoebus Apollo Aviation (Note: At one time the oldest flying DC-3A in the world.)
DC-3 ZS-KIV – (Little Annie) Flying with Keljet cc. Lanseria Airport (ex C9-ATG).
DC-4 ZS- PAJ- Flying with Phoebus Apollo Aviation, Rand Airport (ex C9-ATS).
DC-4 ZS-PAK – Chopped up 2001, remains sold by Phoebus Apollo Aviation.(ex C9-ATF).
DC-6B 9Q-CJE (Angie Baby) - Air Force Base Zwartkop (Ex C9-ASR)
DC-6B N84AU (Baby Shoes) – Cockpit section only. SAA Technical, Johannesburg International OR Tambo
For their help, the author is greatly indebted to:
With the SAA Museum Society
This aircraft was at one stage owned by the South African Airways Museum Society Below is the account of the brief time this "old lady" spent with Museum.
Early on in 1998 the museums restoration team leader heard of a Douglas DC 6B that was destined to be scrapped. Contact was immediately made with the owner of the aircraft and within twenty minutes of meeting with him, we were able to convince him not to send the aircraft to the breakers yard. We could not believe our luck. In fact it took several days to sink in.
We made several trips to Rand Airport Germiston to see and work on our new baby. In order to ferry her to JHB international there was considerable work to be done. Brakes needed fixing, the hydraulic pump was faulty and because the engines had not run for several months we encountered hydraulic locking of the pistons in the lower cylinders. Undeterred we slowly set about rectifying the minor snags.
In the meantime we had to find crew to fly her and obtain the necessary ferry permit from CAA. Captain Lorrie Raath and Captain Flippie Vermuelen, manager of SA Historic Flight, agreed to fly her for us. Early one dreary September morning we were scheduled to do engine runs for the fist time in many moons. After several hours and a new set of batteries we got the first engine to take. I don’t need to tell you what a thrill. The usual coughing, spluttering, bags and bags of blue smoke only to settle down after a few seconds to that gentle idling rumble only a big piston engine can make. Absolute music to the ears. Soon we had three of the big Pratt and Whiney R2800’s rumbling away merrily. No. 3 had hydraulic lock so we shut down the others and began removing sparkplugs to drain the oil out of the lower cylinders. After several removals and replacements of sparkplugs, engine number three eventually took and by early afternoon we had all four Pratts running. These engines spit oil everywhere, but no other snags were encountered.
Eventually departure day arrived, 8 November 1998, and Flippie and his crew fired her up for the ferry trip to JHB. The majority of us were waiting on runway 09 at JHB for the arrival of our new toy. Take off was delayed. We were cold and getting bored with seeing jet powered aircraft. "DC-6 airborne" came over the radio. Loud cheers, as people checked their watches – should take them only a few minutes someone said. It took them nearer to forty. After taking off and turning right Flippie gave those who stayed at Rand a very fast and low flypast and was them informed of a delay and he had to circle out to the south.
With great cheer the "six" was spotted on her final approach and as the liner touched down we all roared with excitement. Our new baby was home.
She stayed on 09 for a few days while arrangements were made for parking at SAA technical. It cost the museum a couple of thousand Rand to clean up all the oil she had deposited on 09.
Douglas DC-6B ZS-XXX nose to nose with little brother DC-4 ZS-AUB
Johannesburg International Airport
27 March 1999
Photograph: Omer Mees
Douglas DC-6B ZS-XXX
Outside Hanagr 5 at Johannesburg International Airport
27 March 1999
Photograph: Omer Mees
Flippie Vermeulen offered the SAA Museum Society two rooms adjacent to hangar 14 at Swartkop, to house our collection of memorabilia, as well as parking space alongside the hangar for our aircraft. This offer was gratefully accepted. Swartkop was to become our new home and the DC-6 was in for yet another ferry flight. This time the ferry flight encountered some snags. On becoming airborne, the radios quit, the fuel pumps proved troublesome and on landing a tyre burst. However true to Douglas fashion she arrived safely.
A lot of effort was put into making the aircraft look presentable. We were made an offer we could not refuse for the aircraft and she has passed on to new owners. She is still based at Swartkop. What she still needs is lots of hard work by a dedicated bunch of enthusiasts who are not afraid of getting dirty. Hopefully one day she will look as good as she did when she was delivered to her first owners, Canadian Pacific, on the 15th of August 1957.
At Swartkop 30 June 2002
Photograph: Julian Whitelaw
Douglas DC 6B
See website www.transairsweden.com
First delivered as new to Canadian Pacific Airlines as CF-CZV "Empress of Suva" in August 1957. Transair bought the aircraft in November 1961 as SE-BDG "Stockholm". Sold to Braathens as LN-SUT in may 1965. After this other registrations and owners have passed OY-DRC Greenlandair "Amalik" between February 1971 to March 1979. New owner after this was Air Atlantique where the aircraft was registered G-SIXB.
In December 1979 there was again a new owner and this time far south in Africa. It was Air Swaziland and new registration was 3D-ASA, later registration 3D-ASB. Most of its time it was parked and in February 1987 it found a new owner in Flying Enterprise with registration N90300. Six months later there was again a new owner and this time Interocean Airways and new registration was C9-ASR. After this there was also another owner, African Air Carriers and in 1990 the aircraft was bought by Avia Air and registered ZS-MUL.
At the end of the 1990s the aircraft was working for a company in the Democratic Republic of Congo with the name, believe it or not, Trans Air Cargo and the registration was 9Q-CJE. In November 1999 the aircraft with the new registration ZS-XXX was ferried from Rand to Johannesburg and then on to Swartkop airforce base near Pretoria. Today it belongs to The South African Airways Museum Society and will probably remain there as a static display. The aircraft was the ONLY ex Transair Sweden DC 6/6B that was in use after such a long time, nearly 42 years after delivery from the factory. For another picture see TSA Aircraft Today.
EMPRESS OF SUVA – SAVED
Written by Leon Steyn
Historian - South African Air Force Museum
11 October 2010
On the southern side of the historic South African Air Force airfield Swartkop, almost noticeably removed from the rest of the activities on the field, a very unique DC-6 has been left derelict the best part of ten years. She arrived at Swartkop in 1998 destined for the South African Airways Museum Society, which then occupied a hangar with the SA Historic Flight at Swartkop operating the Douglas DC-3 and DC-4. She was in good company. However during 2005 the South African Air Force found a need for the area when the nearby AFB Waterkloof’s facilities had to be renovated, necessitating the move of all the squadrons back to Swartkop. SA Historic Flight together with the SAA Museum Society was forced to vacate the premises. Challenged with the option to either fly the DC-6 out of Swartkop or move the aircraft by road, the Museum Society found both options too costly and decided to sell the aircraft. She ended up with enthusiast Peter Bauman, but facing ever-increasing costs associated with her lengthy stay at Swartkop, he decided to offer the aircraft to the South African Air Force Museum. They declined the offer. Scrapping the aircraft remained the only other option, but when two business partners and avid collectors Witold Walus and Willie Muntingh learnt about the aircraft, they duly made an offer to purchase the DC-6. The Air Force wanted the aircraft out of Swartkop and Witold and Willie prepared a most ambitious plan to fly her out of Swartkop to their small holding north of Pretoria, where she would adorn the entrance to their business as a gate guard. This would involve the construction of an airstrip across several adjacent small holdings to accommodate the arrival there.
The first technical inspection on the aircraft at the end of 2008 provided professional advice that the aircraft should rather be moved by road to avoid unnecessary costs. The aircraft had been standing for ten years and would need considerable technical attention. The option to move her by road would however involve cutting the main spar to remove the wings, and as Witold put it “would render the aircraft useless” a final death knell. And with that, the decision was made that she would be flown out of Swartkop. An experienced DC-6 engineer, Mike Mayers was recruited and his team started the tedious if obnoxious work to repair the aircraft back to flying condition for the ferry flight. Many challenges have been met, and a few remain, but the passionate Witold and Willie have kept their promise, let it be said amidst a chorus of pessimists, to honour the history of this special aircraft.
A charmed life
The DC-6B at Swartkop has survived the rigours of time remarkably well. When the aircraft was constructed (c/n 45329) in the summer of 1957, she already shared the Douglas production line with DC-7Cs and early production DC-8 jet models.
She was delivered new to Canadian Pacific Airlines on the 15th of August 1957 as CF-CZV who named her “Empress of Suva” on account of the Canadian Pacific Airlines’ passenger service to Fiji on the Vancouver - Hawaii - New Zealand - Australia route. In 1961 she was sold to Transair of Sweden as SE-BDG “Stockholm”. Transair was one of the pioneers in the charter business and its aircraft regularly provided for troop transport chartered to the United Nations in the Congo area. An early introduction to life in Africa!
Her most divine service came with Braathens in Norway who acquired the aircraft in 1965 and registered her as LN-SUT. Braathens provided aircraft to Joint Churches Aid (CJA) also known as Jesus Christ Airlines. In what became known as the Airbridge to Biafra, JCA managed to keep the troubled breakaway West African state alive for almost two years. Between 1968 and 1969 5312 daring missions were flown from the island of Sao Tome to a tiny airstrip called Uli on the West African coast. JCA supported an amazing airlift of food and arms in which over 60 000 tons of humanitarian relief were provided.
A more civil period of service followed with Greenlandair which operated a pair of DC-6s between 1971 and 1980. The nine years as OY-DRC “Amalik” remains the longest and most continuous period of service with any one operator. Greenlandair reluctantly replaced the pair with de Havilland Dash 7s in 1980 and sold both to Air Atlantique based at Coventry where she was registered as G-SIXB.
She travelled to Southern Africa at the end of 1980 to be operated by Air Swazi as 3D-ASA, later 3D-ASB, but her utilisation was low and she spent most of her time parked at Mpaza airport.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw an increase in chartered cargo operations in the Central Africa region, especially in support of famine relief and United Nations initiatives. The influx of many cargo aircraft was noticeable.
In February 1987 the aircraft was registered with Aerostar International, a US company based in Marysville, California as N90300, but without leaving the country, was purchased again by Interocean Airways of Beira, Mozambique in August 1987. Interocean operated on subcontract to the national carrier LAM who was responsible for the distribution of goods to a United Nations affiliate, but could not perform this task owing to a lack of suitable aircraft and therefore chartered the work to Interocean. Another DC-6B that was operated by Interocean was ex 9J-AEP (c/n 43740) ex N84AU as early as 1978. This aircraft found its way to South Africa and was eventually broken up at Lanseria in November 1990.
Gert de Klerk of Avia Air acquired the aircraft for similar chartered cargo work in Southern Africa during 1990 and she operated from Wonderboom airport and Freeway airstrip as ZS-MUL together with another DC-6A ZS-MTE.
A major entity in African cargo operations at the time, Trans Air Cargo purchased the aircraft in 1992 as 9Q-CJE and operated her out of Kinshasa in Zaire on cargo operations. At the time the major maintenance facility for DC-4 and DC-6 aircraft was Fields Airmotive at Rand Airport headed by Kiki Le Maire where a major Pratt & Whitney overhaul facility had been established.
By the late 1990s the amount of work for this type of aircraft was diminishing and linked to the worsening political turmoil in Zaire many of these aircraft “fled” to South Africa. For many years the biggest concentration of these classic old propliners could be found at Lanseria and Rand Airport, pure delight for the historically inclined aviation enthusiast. Unfortunately most were destined to be scrapped or left derelict. During 1998 the SAA Museum Society learnt of 9Q-CJE’s impending fate at Rand and through the efforts of the museum’s restoration team leader Richard Hunt and John Austin-Williams managed to convince the owner Kiki Le Maire otherwise. The DC-6 was duly donated to the SAA Museum Society. A considerable amount of maintenance work had to be done on the aircraft, but she was ferried to Johannesburg International Airport with a temporary registration ZS-XXX on the 8th of November 1998 by Flippie Vermeulen, Laurie Raath, and Uwe Huhnel. A final and very eventful positioning flight to Swartkop followed, her resting place for the next ten years.
Engine runs at Swartkop
20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Engine runs at Swartkop
20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Swartkop 20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Engine runs at Swartkop
20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Engine runs at Swartkop
20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Engine runs at Swartkop
20 July 2010
Photograph: John Austin-Williams
Swartkop 16 October 2010
Photograph: Leon Steyn